Orphan

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Orphan
"This film, like it's central character is wilfully complex and surprisingly fluid, wrong-footing us as we try to fill in the spaces between each vignette at the same time as drawing us to its thriller component."

Is the person we are as an adult the same as we were as a child or a teenager? It's a fundamental question that lies at the heart of Arnaud des Pallières' Orphan, which although it may initially seem to be outlining four different women at different points in their lives, is intent on exploring facets of the same character, moulded by the events she has experienced. This idea of multiple aspects of a single personality - or the way a person shrugs off one identity in favour of another, also seen this year in Complete Unknown - is reinforced by the fact that his co-writer Christelle Berthevas drew on her own life for the script.

The past is hard to shake off, as Renée (Adèle Haenel) discovers one day when, out of the blue, Tara, a woman she knew years ago breezes back into her world - and her classroom - bringing with her a life she had left behind. Gemma Arterton, who appears to have taken to French like a fish to water after learning it for Anne Fontaine's Gemma Bovery, plays Tara as a determined bombshell, who after a spell in prison, isn't afraid to blow up Renée's comfortable existence in order to get the 35,000 euros she's owed. The life Renée lives is about to collide with her previous identity Karine.

Copy picture

First, though, we meet another incarnations, a young woman named Sandra (Adèle Exarchopoulos), who is hawking herself to an older man in a cafe who claims he wants to adopt. Soon, she finds herself embroiled in a world of horse betting, where her path crosses that of Tara. Damage continues to ricochet through the women's lives as we meet 13-year-old Karine (Solène Rigot) who will do anything - and go home with anyone - to escape the beatings her dad regularly hands out. Even the youngest protagonist, Kiki (Vega Cuzytek) is about to have what appears to be a warm and idyllic childhood shattered by circumstance.

In short, this film, like it's central character is wilfully complex and surprisingly fluid, wrong-footing us as we try to fill in the spaces between each vignette at the same time as drawing us to its thriller component concerning the cash. Aspects of this are not always fully satisfying, particularly what appears to be a partially sketched subplot about a lasting romantic liaison between an older man (Sergi López) and Karine/Sandra and Kiki's story, which seems distinctly prosaic compared to the narrative elsewhere.

But this sense of being flawed is essential to Pallières' film; most of the women may wear bright red lipstick but they are shot by cinematographer Yves Capes with a hugging, unflinching gaze, so that every blemish and hair out of place is emphasised. His film is about what lies beneath the surface, the substance of Renée which proves mutable but unbreakable.

Reviewed on: 16 Nov 2016
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Four incarnations of a character who is a mistress of reinvention.

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SSFF 2016

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